WASHINGTON (BP) — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation Thursday (July 5) amid federal investigations of his spending and management prompted his pastor to lament the “present ugliness” of political attacks and note the high ethical standards to which Christians are held.
Pruitt — a deacon at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., and until early 2017 a trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — wrote in his resignation letter to President Trump that he believes “providence brought me into your service,” adding, “I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people,” according to a copy of the letter tweeted by a New York Times reporter.
Nick Garland, pastor of First Baptist Broken Arrow, told Baptist Press via email, “The fact that one is a Christian means that he/she will be held to a high standard for choices made, in policy and in personal matters. Every decision made will be put against the backdrop of one’s Christian faith.”
When Pruitt was announced in December 2016 as Trump’s pick to lead the EPA, a group of 48 evangelicals — including 13 former Southern Baptist Convention presidents, 14 current and former SBC entity heads and 17 state Baptist convention executive directors — sent Trump an open letter in support of Pruitt, the then-attorney general of Oklahoma.
This year, however, Pruitt has battled allegations he misused his influence, government funds and staff resources. The allegations have prompted 13 federal investigations, The Times reported. In addition, some environmental groups have opposed Pruitt for his rollback of Obama-era EPA policies he deemed counterproductive for businesses.
Garland said, “When policy choices made by a Christian are unpopular, the attack from political adversaries will become personal in an attempt to discredit the one in the place of leadership…. Once in America, one was innocent until proven guilty. Today, one is guilty as soon as the press reports it. The trial does not occur. Only the charge ‘stands,’ and it is stated in the press with the drive to punish, which is repeated on talk shows and social media.”
While both sides of the American political spectrum have demonstrated “hostility” toward their political opponents, Garland said, “this present ugliness is from the group that often stated that tolerance was the virtue most needed in America only a few short years ago.”
In his resignation letter, Pruitt said the “unrelenting attacks on me personally [and] my family are unprecedented and have taken a sizeable toll on all of us.”
Following Pruitt’s resignation, Kieran Suckling, executive director of the environmentalist group Center for Biological Diversity, called Pruitt “the worst EPA chief in history” and said according to the Associated Press, “His corruption was his downfall, but his pro-polluter policies will have our kids breathing dirtier air long after his many scandals are forgotten.”
Earlier this year, Pruitt told the Christian Broadcasting Network he believes humans have a responsibility to care for the environment, but that includes “a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind.”
In addition to criticism of Pruitt’s policies, the EPA investigated at least 10 threats of violence against Pruitt and his family over a six-month period, The Times reported in March.
Trump tweeted in response to Pruitt’s resignation, “Within the [EPA] Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.”
Pruitt is at least the second person with Southern Baptist ties to resign from Trump’s cabinet. In September 2017, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned amid allegations he misused taxpayer funds. Prior to his confirmation as HHS secretary, Price had been a regular attendee of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and was the featured speaker at the congregation’s July 2016 patriotic service.
Garland said the political realm’s “upheaval should make us glad that we are not of this world. We are in this world, but our citizenship is in heaven.”